Friday, July 10, 2009

Book Review: The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer

The Story of a Marriage, by Andrew Sean Greer

I am in love with Andrew Sean Greer.

Hmm, perhaps I should clarify that statement, since my husband The Dean has been known to read this blog.

I am in love with Mr. Greer's writing.

Still, any guy who writes the way Andrew Sean Greer does in The Story of a Marriage qualifies as a keeper in my book. Read for yourself, with these opening lines:

"We think we know the ones we love. Our husbands, our wives. We know them - we are them, sometimes; when separated at a party we find ourselves voicing their opinions, their taste in food or books, telling an anecdote that never happened to us but happened to them. We watch their tics of conversation, of driving and dressing, how they touch a sugar cube to their coffee and stare as it turns white to brown, then drop it, satisfied, into the cup. I watched my own husband do that every morning; I was a vigiliant wife.

Yep. That would be me.

"We think we know them. We think we love them. But what we love turns out to be a poor translation, a translation we ourselves have made, from a language we barely know. We try to get past it to the original, but we never can. We have seen it all. But what have we really understood?

One morning we awaken. Beside us, that familiar sleeping body in the bed: a new kind of stranger. For me, it came in 1953. That was when I stood in my house and saw a creature merely bewitched with my husband's face."

With those lyrical lines, I knew this was going to be a good book. And as the cadence and rhythm of that prose continued throughout the novel, I was left breathless. On more than one occasion. Seriously, there are countless of passages like that - and better. (I found myself thinking, "Yes, that's a perfect quote for my blog review!" on almost every other page. I'm not kidding; Andrew Sean Greer's writing is simply that spectacular and original.)

Jeez, do I not sound like a lovestruck teenager instead of a 40 year old mother of twins? {{fans self}} (And as a matter of fact, yes I did just follow him on Twitter. Nothing wrong with that ... right?)

OK, back to the review.

Pearlie is the wife of Holland Cook; the two grew up together in Kentucky and reunited by chance on a California beach after Holland returns from serving in World War II. Despite the well-meaning but meddlesome overtures by Holland's spinsterish aunts, who inform Pearlie that their nephew is ill, Pearlie and Holland marry. ("The younger aunt put her hand on her lips, like an old statue, and told me it was bad blood, a crooked heart, that there was no cure for it.") With a backdrop of major historical events, like the trial of Ethel Rosenberg, and cultural norms unfolding in the background, Pearlie and Holland live a fairly typical 1950s life in California, along with their son who is afflicted with polio - until an old friend of Holland's returns.

Greer weaves details - one by one - of Pearlie and Holland's younger selves throughout the progression of the novel. (This is the type of book where discussing too much of the plot in advance will absolutely ruin the reader's experience, and as such, I am trying not to give too much away.) I will say that, with one word, one phrase, or one sentence, Greer gives his reader the unexpected - and then some.

I loved, loved, loved everything about The Story of a Marriage. The characters, the plot, the language (in one sentence, he describes "squirrels, fussing like accountants"), the conflict and tension, all of it.

I hope I am doing this wonderful book justice. There's been a lot of buzz about this book among book bloggers (and others) and I admit that I might not have picked it up at the library if not for the many bloggers who raved about this. I'm so grateful for that; otherwise, I would have possibly missed out on discovering a new favorite writer. You'd better believe that I have Greer's previous works, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, The Path of Minor Planets, and How It Was For Me on my TBR list.

The Story of a Marriage is one that I will be recommending for quite some time, as it is one of the best books I've ever read. You know how Newsweek recently published their list of the 50 books for our time? This absolutely, without a doubt, is the very definition of a book for our time. Even thought it is set in 1953, it is incredibly apropos for 2009.

This is a classic. Truly. (And dare I say, moreso than others that have that distinction.) Make this among your summer reading. It's a quick read at 195 pages, so there's no excuse.

My recommendation: 5 stars out of 5. This is one that I would likely re-read, and I very rarely re-read books. (Or watch movies or television, for that matter.) But a second reading would definitely give the reader a deeper perspective into the story and the issues presented, so it would be worth doing.

Andrew Sean Greer's website is here, and below are reviews of what other bloggers had to say. (None of these reviews contain spoilers or other artificial ingredients.) If you read The Story of a Marriage, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

The Book Nook Club
Books on the Brain
Devourer of Books
The Literate Housewife


The Biblio Brat said...

You made me fall in love just by reading your post!

Okay. One more for the wish list.

Thanks! (I think)

Betty and Boo's Mommy said...

Biblio Brat, thanks for visiting and I'm glad you liked the review. It seems that people either love this one or don't, from what I've read after I posted my review. Hope you enjoy it - look forward to hearing what you think!

Florinda said...

This book is currently in TBR Purgatory. I heard Andrew Sean Greer speak on a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books in April, and was so taken with him that I bought the book at one of the bookseller booths immediately afterward. (I also follow him on Twitter :-).)

I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I hope to get around to reading it soon myself.

Scobberlotcher said...

Thanks for posting such a lengthy excerpt. I, too, think that starts the story off in a compelling way. I definitely want to read this one!

You hint at this in your review, but did you think the author handled the perspective of a woman accurately? Got the voice right? The dialogue? It sounds as if he did handle this well.

Betty and Boo's Mommy said...

Florinda, knowing how we share smilar tastes in books, I think you'll like this one a lot. It's a quick read - easily read in one or two sittings, if you have a little chunk of time.

Scobberlotcher, absolutely! Greer definitely nails the nuances of writing from a woman's point of view. I meant to include a mention of that (in more direct terms) in my review, so thanks for asking about that.

Love to know what both of you think about this after you're finished reading it!

JoAnn said...

Greer had me with the opening lines of this one, too.
It was an excellent audio...Pearlie's voice was just perfect. He did a great job telling this from a woman's point of view.